Because I love you . . .

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” – Ephesians 2:4-5

Do you ever go through those times when you think, “Why does God even bother with me? I’ve let him down again. I keep failing to overcome some of the issues that haunt me. I don’t know why he doesn’t just give up on me.”

Listen. Really listen to the quiet voice of the Holy Spirit inside you as you sit in his presence, as you pray, as you read the Bible. You are likely to hear something like this:

I love you even when you feel unlovable. And because I love you, I

  • answer your prayers
  • guide your steps
  • teach you through my Word
  • protect you from the evil one
  • draw you closer to me
  • will take you someday to a place where we can be together forever.

I love you just because. You’re going to have to get used to that!

Can you believe that? Really believe it? It’s true, you know. God loves each of us unconditionally. Once we grasp the reality of that truth, we will never be the same. Our worthiness is not even a small part of the reason God loves us. He loves us because he created us. He loves us because it is part of his eternal nature to love us – no matter what. How can we help responding with joy to such unconditional, unchanging love? Believe it. Live in it. To God, you are always lovable. And always loved!

“My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ, and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.” – Brennan Manning

 

Because you prayed

“. . . in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. – Philippians 4:6b

Do our prayers make a difference? Yes! God hears and responds.

King Hezekiah in an interesting example. The Assyrian army was outside Jerusalem ready to attack. But first they came with threats, hoping the people would surrender. They bragged about all the nations they already had conquered and mocked God saying he was not strong enough to save them.

Hezekiah took those threats before God in prayer, asking that God defend his people for his own glory. Here’s God’s response (through Isaiah, the prophet):

“. . . Because you have prayed to me concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria, this is the word that the Lord has spoken concerning him:” (from Isaiah 37:21)

And he promises Sennacherib will be defeated and Hezekiah’s army will not have to lift a finger. The next morning 185,000 Assyrian soldiers were found dead in the camp. The others fled.

Look again at what Isaiah said to Hezekiah: Because you prayed this is what God’s going to do. And he did.

Keep praying! Who knows what happens because you pray? I imagine a scene in heaven when God says to us,

  • Because you prayed, your child was healed.
  • Because you prayed, your friend came to know me.
  • Because you prayed, your soldier came home.
  • Because you prayed, others learned to pray, too.

How will he finish that sentence for you? You won’t know if you don’t pray. For reasons we’ll never understand fully, God takes our prayers seriously. At least that’s what he told Hezekiah. I think he says the same to us. Our prayers matter!

“The sense of mystery must always be, for mystery means being guided by obedience to Someone Who knows more than I do.” – Oswald Chambers

#prayer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above all . . .

“In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” – Isaiah 30:15

How good are you at resting? God is very big on rest and actually designed our weeks to have one whole day in which we are told to rest – to stop what we do on other days and do something that is refreshing and restorative.

After God had given the commandments to Moses, he emphasized one of them: Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you'” (from Exodus 31:13). Above all? Does God really mean that? Why, I wonder?

I think it’s so we learn to trust him. Trust him with the work we didn’t get done, with the plans that need to be made, and the relationships that need to be fixed. Trust him with the anxieties we carry all week. One day a week, we rest in his love and grace and his work on our behalf.

And that includes spiritual striving. God does the work of making us holy – setting us apart for him. We can try harder, working our hearts out to please him, but if he’s not in it, all our efforts are fruitless. Sometimes he just wants us to sit still in his presence and let him work his transformation in our lives. It is in that rest, perhaps, that we learn to love him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Maybe restful living is mostly about letting go.

“Unhurried does not describe how I spend hours or minutes. It describes a state of heart. Unhurried comes not from forced breaks, but from chosen stillness.” – David Timms

#sabbathrest

He wears well!

” . . . there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” – Proverbs 18:24b

Some people burst into our lives, make a big splash, and then fade away. There are others who wear well, proving to be consistent, faithful friends. The more we know them, the better we like them. God is like those friends who wear well, making us want to know him better and better over time. How can we do that?

First, we can read and reread the Bible to find out what it reveals about him. This book is the most direct way for us to understand God, his expectations, and his dealings with us and with mankind through history.

Second, we can look at the natural world and discover something about God in what he has created for us to enjoy. I’m not a science person, but when I realized I can know God better if I understand his creation better, I became motivated to read and learn.

Third, we can learn to notice God’s involvement as we look at what’s happening on Planet Earth. The Holy Spirit, living within us, will give us insight. As we become aware of world events and as we face issues in our own lives, he wants us to realize he is in control – nothing happens that takes him by surprise.

Fourth, we can talk to Him constantly. If we just ask, God will reveal his character, his personality, and his will so we can know him better, trust him more, and serve him with commitment.

Let’s keep on getting to know him. He’s a friend who wears well!

 For what higher, more exalted, and more compelling goal can there be than to know God?” – J.I. Packer

 

This post is adapted from The GodSense Journey: Exploring Sacred Pathways, Week Eighteen

#knowingGod

Can you believe? Just a little bit?

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:9

I have a friend who was skeptical about the Bible. He’d read it, then question it. He tried to explain away miracles and dismissed any possibility of Jesus’ divinity. He looked at commands as cultural suggestions, to be revised at will.

But some of his rationalizations didn’t make sense – even to him. Eventually, he came to an intellectual impasse. One day he simply said to himself that, if the Bible were true, he’d be willing to believe. The next day, as he read the Bible, everything seemed to fall into place. His willingness to believe resulted in actual belief.

Sometimes we just don’t want to believe. We are not open to having our minds changed. If you are in that place, I would encourage you to take a step, just a small step toward the possibility of belief.

God is not like us. He thinks differently. He communicates differently. He has capacities and powers we cannot begin to understand. But He loves humans. He sent Jesus to reveal Himself to us. One of my favorite Jesus stories is when a father came asking for his son’s release from demonic powers. Jesus responded “Anything is possible for the one who believes”. The father, in complete honesty, answered, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

I have prayed that prayer many times. “I believe, Lord, but just a little. Help my little bit of belief to grow so I can know You as you truly are and trust You with my life.” Are you ready to pray that prayer, too?

“The one you are looking for is the one who is looking.” – Francis of Assisi

 

Note: In my discussions with this person and many others, I’ve had a chance to hear and explore the questions skeptics often ask. If you want to know more, you may be helped by my recent book, The Bible for Skeptics: A Conversation for Thinking People.   https://beverlyvankampen.com/resources/
#bible
#god

Greater Prayers

“We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” – Romans 8:26b

How do we know what to pray for? So many times we face situations for ourselves or others that don’t have identifiable solutions. At other times, we may be praying for a band-aid when God wants us to have surgery. Or praying for candy when He wants us to have steak.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have God’s perspective applied to our situations so He can respond today in ways that prepare us for what’s next? We know God’s thoughts are way beyond ours – more creative, more all-encompassing, more eternal. We cannot think as He does, so how can we know we’re praying for the right things? How can we pray prayers we don’t even know how to pray?

I’ve learned that it sometimes means praying without words, silently allowing the Holy Spirit to pray through us. We can practice this wordless prayer something like this: Sit in His presence. Tell Him we yield to His will, whatever it may be. Then, trusting His character, know what He wants is better than anything we could ask for ourselves or for someone else. Quiet yielding comes from the heart, relies on God’s wisdom and love, and prays beyond words.

I believe it’s God’s way of letting us pray prayers bigger than ourselves. Amazing, really.

“Lord Jesus,
take my mind and think through me,
take my hands and bless through me,
take my mouth and speak through me.

Above all, Lord Jesus, take my spirit and pray in me; so that it is you who move and have your being in me.”

(from a prayer found in a 16th century Book of Hours)

 

Because you asked . . .

“Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.” – Psalm 112:4

Sometimes we labor in prayer, pleading with God for answers to pressing issues, waiting anxiously to see what He will do.

At other times, we simply mention something to Him, and He seems to respond – maybe just because we brought it up. For unexplainable reasons, God has chosen to use our prayers to change things in our world. And on some amazing occasions, He uses our prayers to bring blessings to others.

When God told Abraham he and Sarah would have a son, Abraham laughed because he was 99 years old and Sarah was 90! Not seeing how God could pull this one off, Abraham suggested his son Ishmael be the chosen one instead. But God made it clear that the new baby would be born and this son would be the one to carry on the covenant between God and Abraham.

God doesn’t stop there. He says, “. . . as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him. . .” (Genesis 17:20a). We know God had a plan for Ishmael, too, but I love that He seemed to respond specifically to Abraham’s concern. It’s almost as if God said, “I will bless him because you asked.”

Doesn’t that motivate you to ask? It does me. If we’re concerned about some person or situation, God wants to hear about it. Sometimes He gives us peace while we wait and sometimes He intervenes just because we thought it was important enough to talk to Him about. He allows us and our prayers to be the conduit of His blessing to others. What a privilege. What a responsibility! Let’s pray more.

“When we experience the love of God, we feel possibilities for newness on every side.” – Lewis Smedes